Minnesota Gov. Tim Walz (D) is already planning for a marijuana legalization victory with Democrats newly in control of the legislature, saying it will be “one of the first” bills to pass in 2023, according to former governor Jesse Ventura, who says the incumbent called him to chat about the implications of this week’s election results.
He also extended an invitation to Ventura, a former wrestling star and longtime cannabis reform advocate, to the future signing ceremony once the legislature delivers a legalization bill to the current governor’s desk.
Ventura disclosed details about the conversation during a live Clubhouse steam on Wednesday. Walz’s office confirmed that the two had the discussion in a statement to CBS Minnesota, adding that they “may work together to get something done.”
“The sticking point for cannabis in Minnesota were the Republicans and the house they controlled,” Ventura said on the streaming platform. “Well, they’ve lost it now. And the governor reassured me that one of the first items that will be passed—Minnesota, get ready—cannabis is going to have its prohibition lifted.”
He said that Walz explained to him that he was invited to the signing ceremony because “this started with you, so you deserve to be there to see it come to a close over 20 years later,” referencing Ventura’s early advocacy on the issue during his time as governor.
About to go live on Clubhouse at 7pm CST to talk Mid-Term Election results and wherever else the conversation will take us.https://t.co/0MwVQTSI0w
— Jesse Ventura (@GovJVentura) November 10, 2022
The governor’s office didn’t expand on any details about the potential collaboration with Ventura, but the comments also come as Democratic senators say that legalization will be among the issues that the caucus intends to discuss imminently as they decide on legislative priorities for 2023.
Cannabis legalization has passed the House under Democratic-Farmer-Labor Party leadership, though the reform has been consistently blocked in the Senate, which in recent years has been controlled by Republicans.
But the political winds have shifted demonstrably in advocates’ favor, with Democrats taking control of the Senate by one seat for the first time since 2014.
Sen. Erin Murphy (D), who led campaign efforts for the party this cycle and could be elected as the new majority leader, said on Wednesday that members “are going to get together for the first time tomorrow to begin to talk about the agenda, but it is important to remember that legalization of cannabis is a popular issue across the state.”
The House passed a legalization bill from House Majority Leader Ryan Winkler (D) last year, after it moved through 12 committees on its intensive legislative journey to the floor. It then stalled out in the GOP-controlled Senate. An earlier bipartisan legalization proposal led by Sens. Scott Jensen (R) and Melisa López Franzen (D) in 2019 also did not advance.
Franzen also tried to leverage a legislative procedure earlier this year to bypass the committee process and quickly bring legalization to the floor, but the motion did not receive the required supermajority support to work.
“We are excited about the prospects for full legalization, but Minnesotans who want to see legalization will still have work to do,” Maren Schroeder, coalition director for the MNisReady Coalition, told Marijuana Moment on Wednesday. “We’re optimistic that we’ll get it across the finish line in 2023.”
The coalition launched a voter education resource in August in the hopes of activating more voters to make their voices heard and support candidates who back cannabis legalization—an effort that seems to have paid off.
Two polls released in September found that the majority of Minnesota residents support adult-use marijuana legalization—and one survey showed that even more Minnesotans approve of the state’s move to legalize THC-infused edibles that was enacted earlier this year.
Walz, who won his reelection bid on Tuesday against the former senator, Jensen, has pushed for legalizing marijuana in a regulated market, including funding for implementation in his budget proposal this year.
At a separate press conference on Wednesday, Walz reiterated that he is “supportive” of legalizing cannabis and discussed the legislature’s failure to send him a bill on it to date.
“That was simply the Senate stalling on that and not doing anything,” he said. “I would assume now that there may be more of a desire.”
A survey conducted by officials with the House at the annual State Fair that was released in September also found majority support for legalization. That legislature-run poll found that 61 percent of Minnesotans back legalizing cannabis for adult use.
The governor also signed a bill over the summer that included provisions to provide permanent protections allowing state hemp businesses to legally market certain cannabis products—including foods and beverages infused with CBD and other cannabinoids.
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Back in January, Winkler and López Franzen discussed their plans to advance the cannabis reform this session.
Winkler said at the time that his bill was the “product of hundreds of hours of work involving thousands of people’s input, countless hearings and public listening sessions.”
Separately, certain Democrats including staff for Winkler have found themselves caught up in a controversy over an alleged (and ultimately unsuccessful) attempt to change the name of a third party focused on marijuana that some have seen as undercutting Democratic support on the ballot in past cycles to one instead meant to appeal to far-right conservatives in an apparent attempt to siphon votes away from Republicans in the upcoming election.
Previously, in 2019, the governor directed state agencies to prepare to implement reform in anticipation of legalization eventually passing.
While legalization wasn’t ultimately enacted following the House’s passage of the bill last year, the governor did sign a bill to expand the state’s medical marijuana program, in part by allowing patients to access smokable cannabis products.
The House majority leader said in 2020 that if Senate Republicans don’t go along with the policy change legislatively, he hoped they will at least let voters decide on cannabis as a 2022 ballot measure, but that didn’t materialize.